Authors: B. V. Larson
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Alien Invasion, #Colonization, #Exploration, #First Contact, #Galactic Empire, #Genetic engineering, #Hard Science Fiction, #Military, #Space Fleet, #Space Opera, #Space Exploration
SF Books by B. V. Larson:
The Undying Mercenaries Series:
STAR FORCE SERIES:
Army of One
for more information.
(Lost Colonies Trilogy #3)
B. V. Larson
Lost Colonies Trilogy
Copyright © 2016 by the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.
Star Guard’s budget ballooned in the months after I’d first met with the Ruling Council of Earth. The Council was a shadowy group of oldsters who were invisible to society at large, but they possessed tremendous power. They quietly guided events on my home planet from behind the scenes.
Clear evidence of their fantastic influence had appeared in physical form since my last voyage. Seven new spacecraft now hung in orbit over Earth’s equatorial belt.
They were battleships all—huge, ugly vessels. They were angular in design and spiked with weaponry. They looked quite distinct from my own ship,
command deck, I reviewed this newborn fleet and went over the relative capacities of the hulking vessels. By the specs, they were slow. They had engines with approximately the same thrust-output as the engines on my own battle cruiser, but they also had three times
What they lacked in speed and maneuverability they more than made up for in firepower. Their primary cannon batteries outranged my ship’s weapons by a million kilometers, and they hit with greater force—at least, they did so in theory.
They were as yet untested ships. They were battlewagons designed to crush an enemy fleet, not to chase down fleeing opponents. Would that design work in open space? It was an unanswered question.
“I don’t like it,” Commander Durris said.
He was my executive officer, and he stood close by my side as always. He was a well-groomed man whose spine was as ramrod straight as his personality.
“What doesn’t meet with your approval?” I asked him.
Durris took a moment to think before replying. He ran his fingers over his console, causing images to shift into wire-frame in the tactical display. A wealth of colored digits appeared all over every vessel.
“They have firepower,” he said at last, “but they can’t
. What if the enemy hits us from multiple fronts? We can’t be everywhere at once, and they’ll dance away if we chase them with these brutes.”
I nodded, as his logic was unassailable. He lacked, however, all the facts that I was privy to.
“That might not be necessary,” I said. “This fleet wasn’t built to patrol the Solar System.”
“What then?” he asked.
His attention left his console, and he fixed me with a sharp stare. He’d asked countless times for more information concerning the strategic meetings the captains of all the capital ships had been attending of late, but I’d given him nothing. I’d been cautioned not to up until our last meeting.
“Previously,” I said to him quietly, “we possessed only a defensive force. It’s been suspected all along that the Stroj may appear at any moment with an invasive fleet. If they’d done so a year ago, we barely had enough vessels to guard our home space. These new ships are our answer to that dilemma.”
“I don’t see how,” he said, scoffing. “These monsters are too damned slow. What if the Stroj come at Mars or the asteroids? We’d lose everything we have out there. We couldn’t even show up at the fight before they erased—”
I lifted a hand to quiet him. “I said that
the plan. Things have changed.”
“In what way?” he asked, with obvious skepticism.
My XO was competent, hard-working and loyal. He was also suspicious and unwilling to take chances in general. As a result, he made an excellent exec, but he’d been passed up for command repeatedly—even with a dozen new commissions being handed down over the last year.
For my own part, I considered the fact he was lingering at his current rank a benefit. I needed an experienced crew, and he was a central part of my team.
“The change involves two specific points,” I explained. “Firstly, we now have enough ships to do more than sit here guarding Earth.”
He snorted. “We do? Says who?”
I wanted to tell him that the Ruling Council, the oldsters who spun webs of power behind the men and women we took to be our leaders, had done so. But naturally, revealing such a thing was out of the question if I wanted to keep my command.
Instead, I cleared my throat. “Our fleet is more powerful than it may seem,” I assured him. “Lay out a course for Mars. We have a mission to perform.”
He eyed me tensely for a moment.
“Sir,” he said, “I appreciate the need for the utmost secrecy. What with the infiltration of the Stroj among our ranks, I even applaud it. But certain factors would be very helpful when preparing for a voyage. The expected length of our stay, for example...?”
“Assume the worst,” I said. “Fill our holds with foodstuffs and emergency supplies. Pack every magazine as if we’re going on a lengthy campaign.”
He nodded, tapping at his screens with quick fingers.
“What of personnel? What about our marine complement and our—?”
“Get them all back here. All leaves are canceled.”
“Yes sir! When do we have to be underway?”
“I’ll give you six days. That’s all we can afford. Can we be ready to launch by then?”
“I’ll make it happen, Captain.”
“Excellent,” I said. “I know you’ve kept this ship primed, in the highest state of readiness. I appreciate that, Commander Durris.”
He smiled briefly. “Thank you, sir.”
That was it. He stopped asking questions, and that pleased me, because I had precious few more answers for him.
I’d been briefed only hours earlier at CENTCOM. Admiral Halsey had kept the affair short and sweet. We were to gather our crews and leave orbit, arriving at the laboratory complex on Phobos within two weeks’ time.
I’d promised the admiral I could keep that schedule, and I didn’t like to disappoint the brass.
* * *
The fleet slipped away one by one over the following days. There’d been no announcement of intent or statement of purpose to the public.
But they’d noticed—how could they not? The skies were too clear, the fading presence of the heavy, silver-black ships too obvious to ignore. The plumes of exhaust alone formed brilliant streaks as the vessels broke orbit, each like a great comet when seen from the city streets far below us.
“William?” a call reached my mind through my implant. “Captain William Sparhawk, won’t you speak with me?”
It was Lady Chloe of House Astra. She and I had a history. We’d been lovers before the war had begun, and I thought of her often still.
Despite these facts, I was reluctant to answer her call. The last time I’d shipped out, she’d contacted me as well—or someone pretending to be her had. I’d been waylaid, and I’d nearly missed my appointment with destiny.
But her voice wouldn’t leave my mind. The sweet tones of it rang in my ears as if I was actually hearing them. Despite the fact I knew it was merely my implant playing on my aural nerves, I felt a rush of emotion. Her voice conjured fond memories I couldn’t escape.
Sometimes, advancements in technology could be cruel. In the old days, messages from a man’s lost love haunted him with mere script or text. They could be more easily and painlessly ignored.
Not so today. Now, I had to endure the lilt of her voice, the emotion in it plain to my senses. It was as if she stood on my command deck and whispered sweetly to me.
Sucking in a breath, I steeled myself for whatever might come from her virtual throat and answered the call.
“Lady Astra,” I said formally and with what I hoped was a welcoming tone. “It’s good to hear from you. It’s been months. What can I do for you and your House?”
“So formal, William!” she said. “May I manifest? Your options are forbidding it.”
My cheek twitched. I’d set my implant to allow audio, but to filter out visuals. Releasing a quiet sigh, I willed this to change.
Lady Astra immediately appeared. My mind placed her in an empty seat nearby, one usually occupied by Lieutenant Commander Yamada.
“Excuse me,” I told Chloe, “I’ve been overloaded with documents and reports. They’ve been cluttering my field of vision lately.”
“Perhaps I should go, then?” she asked.
I gazed at her for the span of two heartbeats. I knew I
banish her image from my mind—but I couldn’t. Not now that I’d laid eyes upon her again. She was as fresh as a flower, as exquisite as a cut jewel.
“Tell me what this is about,” I said.
Chloe’s eyes crawled around the command deck. She could see what I could see, using my optical channels. She looked at the forward screen, and she gasped.
“It’s true,” she said, “you’re shipping out. All of you. Where are you going, William?”
“I’m not at liberty to say. You know that, Chloe.”
“Of course not,” she said. “You’d think they’d brief the membership—but not these days. CENTCOM has become positively paranoid.”
That was with good reason, we both knew. Stroj assassins had popped up from time to time, and agents had been ferreted out. Some thought we’d gotten the last of them, and none had been discovered for several months.
But how could we be absolutely certain of that? One couldn’t verify a negative. The Stroj had proven very resourceful when it came to infiltration, spying and subversion.
Her eyes came back to rest on me.
“You can relax,” she said. “I’m not a Stroj agent. Not this time. I’m a worried Public Servant. I’m not calling to beg you to come back to my side or do anything else against your orders.”
“Good,” I said.
She smiled. “We both know you wouldn’t do it anyway. What I’m calling for is information. My House is concerned. The fleet is leaving orbit, and no one seems to know why.”
“Someone must,” I said, “perhaps you can inquire at CENTCOM?”
She made a snorting sound and a flippant gesture. “As if that would make a difference. They won’t even answer my calls. Me, a full-fledged Servant, stone-walled like a salesman! It’s astonishingly inappropriate.”
“Well, I can’t give you anything they won’t. Surely, you know that Chloe.”
“I do. But perhaps you can tell me a few things that
“Do you have a full load of supplies aboard?”
I hesitated. There were no orders regarding information dissemination other than not to reveal our mission or our destination.
“I can’t tell you that,” I said.
“Really?” she asked, more concerned than ever. “That must mean you
have a full load. Therefore, they’re sending the whole fleet into deep space for a lengthy voyage without informing any of the oversight committees. Unbelievable.”
I shifted uncomfortably in my captain’s chair despite the fact the padding was more than adequate.
“Please, Lady Astra, don’t ask me any more questions. I can’t afford to be a source for anything—not even a shrewd guess.”
“Do you think I’m a Stroj illusion?” she asked. “Because I’m not. Not this time.”
“I’m sure of that, but I have my orders.”
She nodded thoughtfully. “I’m sorry for this call. I was asked to do it on the behalf of others. We’re in a bit of a power-struggle down here. There are protocols, and they aren’t being followed.”
“Let me see if I understand you,” I said. “Someone felt your relationship with me could be exploited to bypass CENTCOM? I’m alarmed at the thought as well as your participation in this matter.”
She sighed and lowered her chin. “I knew you’d feel this way. You’re a man of principles, and I must apologize. On a personal note, please contact me when you return home. I’d love to see you again in person, William.”
This last statement made me smile. She’d broken my heart some time back and now, here she was again, toying with me. I knew all this, but I’d been captivated by her from the start. She was fickle and aloof at times, but she’d fascinated me from the moment I’d met her.
“I’ll do that,” I said. “Now, if you could excuse me…”
“Of course. Carry on, and may the stars guide you!”
The channel closed, but my eyes lingered upon her ghostly form until it vanished completely from my mind.